The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
In tonight’s Gospel lesson we hear of Jesus birth—the promise in the flesh entering into the world to save His people from their sins—taking place “when the days were accomplished.” Now, for most people, this is nothing more than an old-fashioned, King James’ way of saying, “when Mary reached full term in her pregnancy; when the due date arrived and she went into labor.” Okay…that is certainly part of it, but that’s not all of it. The days—the time for the plan of salvation to come to fruition—had been accomplished and fulfilled. St. Paul says in Galatians that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son to be born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” The fullness of time…. According to God’s clock and calendar, it was now just the right time for the plan of redemption to enter into the world in the same flesh of men that He came to redeem.
And I do want you to think about what all this means, because it is here in this blessed Christmas story we all know so well that we see God fulfilling, in the most unexpected ways, His promise of redemption and salvation that He first promised in the Garden of Eden so many centuries before; a promise that all the faithful in the Old Testament believed and held fast to. Think about how God uses a young virgin who is betrothed to a righteous and faithful man to be the mother of God in the flesh. How’s that for unexpected? Before they’re even married, there is already the rumor of adultery and infidelity. The scorn and shame and ridicule these two must have had to endure over the years. “Yeah, right…immaculate conception.” The rumors, the whispers, the snickering and laughing, the outright accusations. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. And yet…this is how God works His plan.
God sends this Christ child to be born, not in some ornate palace or fancy hospital with all the best technology; not even in the comfortable surroundings of his own home, but in a meager livestock pen, complete with the livestock. The Savior of the world is essentially born homeless! His first bed is a feed trough. Who would ever draw up the plan this way?! Jesus is born in one of the most volatile and hostile places in all the world—then and now. Jesus is born under foreign rule; the pagan Roman empire occupying the Promised Land, lording over every move the Jews make. Taxation under Caesar Augustus, during the time that Quirinius was governor of Syria…. God’s plan of salvation included taxation from a rotten, despised foreign government! This wasn’t a “once upon a time” type of fairy tale. This was real-life…and not even the good parts. Taxation! Nobody has ever enjoyed being taxed. This is how Jesus’ birth was remembered for decades and centuries to come. “Remember when Caesar did that big taxation and census on the whole world? That’s when Jesus was born.” This was God’s good plan.
Mary gives birth in Bethlehem, which is by no means a bustling metropolis. Bethlehem was “the sticks”; a very poor little blip on the Middle-Eastern map. Just a few miles in any direction and you’re in some very harsh and desolate country. It’s only claim to fame was that King David had been born there 1,000 years earlier. That’s it. God’s plan didn’t include a birth in Rome or Athens or any of the other epicenters of culture and education and commerce. The first visitors to the Christ child? His first visitors are not the magistrates and princes and high society and upper-echelon religious establishment coming to welcome the King of kings and Lord of lords into the world. His visitors aren’t even close family or friends, but a couple of nomadic shepherds, who were basically passing through at the time, herding their flocks and keeping watch over them in some desolate field at night. These weren’t even the local peasant shepherds, who at least had a home in town and were counted as citizens—low-class, bottom-tier citizens—but citizens nonetheless. No. These were nomadic shepherds—gypsies—and they didn’t even count in terms of the taxation census taken by Caesar Augustus. They weren’t even counted when it came to taxation! How much lower can you get?! Nobody considered these vagabonds and nomads to be worthy of counting, and yet…God fills the skies with angelic hosts to let these nameless nobodies know that they counted with Him. God so loved even them that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to fulfill His promise to deliver them from sin, death, and the grave. Of all the people in the world to hear of the promise being kept, God tells the lowest of the low first, and He does so in grand, angelic fashion.
And here’s the thing: While all these little amazing facts (and there are many more we could highlight too) make for some very interesting trivia, they don’t make for Gospel. I know that may sound strange to your ears, but it’s true. All these factoids, in and of themselves, don’t tell the whole story. They tell an interesting story, but they don’t tell the whole Gospel story. Why did God command that Mary’s baby be named “Jesus”? Why did God send Jesus to be born of a woman? The answer to both those questions is the same, and that singular answer is the rest of the story. That singular answer is the Gospel. Why did God command that Mary’s baby be named “Jesus”? Why did God send Jesus to be born of a woman? To save us from our sins. God sent His only-begotten Son in the flesh to save all of us who wear Adam’s flesh. The name “Jesus” tells the whole story of why He came to this earth. “He will be named ‘Jesus’ because He will save His people from their sin.”
And what’s truly sad to me is the fact that for even many Christians, this is brand-new material. “Jesus is the reason for the season” is the popular mantra this time of year, but so many who champion this mantra fail to draw the connection to the whole reason Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He came to live the perfect, sinless life we cannot and do not. He came to make full payment for each every sin. That’s saying something too, considering the fact that God is very clear in telling us that the wage of sin—just one single sin—is death. Jesus didn’t just pay for one sin or for only the really big sins, but He paid for all sins. His perfect life, death, and resurrection made complete atonement for all the people of the world for all time.
Our great-grandparents of the faith understood this. We can read sermons dating back 17, 18, 1900 years ago that rejoice that Christ was born to live and die for our sins. Our forefathers of the faith routinely pointed out the connection of the Nativity to Calvary; the manger to the cross. Many a faithful sermon over the centuries directs the hearer to look into that manger through the eyes of faith. Don’t just see a little baby. There is Christ the Lord. There is almighty God in the flesh. Yes…He is in the form of a baby. This is because He doesn’t want you to fear Him or flee from Him. Who’s afraid of a baby? He wants you to lean in. He wants you to draw near. He wants nothing more than for you to come close to His side and rejoice that He is here in the flesh for you. Look into that manger. Look at the manger itself. Behold how the wood of the manger prefigures and foreshadows the wood of the cross this Savior in the flesh will bear for you. Look and behold the swaddling clothes this infant Savior is wrapped in; linens which prefigure and foreshadow the fair linen that will one day enshroud His body as He’s taken down from His cross and laid to Sabbath rest in His tomb…for you.
Behold in wonder as Gentile wise men come from afar bearing gifts for their infant Lord of lords and King of kings—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They bring the timeless and precious treasure of gold for their King. They bring frankincense and myrrh; very precious commodities that come from afar and carry a premium price; very precious commodities that were often used as burial spices for royalty. Think about that. These foreign men travel from afar because they know what the Scriptures say about the birth of the King of the Jews. “Where is He who is born…?” They know what this means for them and for all people. They come to worship, not a baby, but their Savior—God’s promise in the flesh. They come to anoint Him and prepare Him for the whole purpose He came to this earth—to die for the sins of all mankind. God’s promise and plan in action.
Dear children of God: Look to that manger scene, but don’t just look to that manger scene, for Jesus Christ doesn’t just exist in the past. Tonight isn’t a mere remembrance or anniversary of an ancient historical event. No. Tonight is about giving thanks and rejoicing over the fact that “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Christ Jesus comes to us in these days too, fulfilling His promise to ever abide with us, nourish us, protect us, and deliver us. Look to Him in His Word. Look to the life-giving water He pours out on you in Holy Baptism. Look to the rail as He nourishes you with His own victorious, life-giving body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sin; for the peace that surpasses all understanding.
My dear friends: Here is Christ Jesus, very God of very God, begotten for you. Here He is, in the present tense, for you. Here is your gift of peace from God Himself. Think about this and hold fast in faith to this. Our world is a very dark and scary place, and it’s only getting worse. Christmas and Christianity is on the run in certain parts of the world nowadays, our part included. It’s not even safe to go Christmas shopping now without having to worry about enemies of Christ waging bloody war on shoppers and bystanders. It’s gotten so crazy and out-of-touch with common sense decency that a simple nativity scene or a cross decoration will land you in the poor house, in the jailhouse, and in front of a judge, if not the Supreme Court. Everywhere you look, it looks like evil is winning.
And it’s in the midst of all this terror and tumult and injustice and uncertainty that our Lord abides with you and gives you the gift of Himself; the gift of peace that surpasses all understanding. Through faith we recognize this peace in His holy Word and Sacraments. We recognize this peace on His cross, in the emptiness of His tomb, and even in the form of a little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Through faith we have peace and joy because we get it—God took on our flesh in order to redeem all of us who bear the flesh of Adam. It is finished, in Him and because of Him. That’s God’s good plan of peace and salvation, for you, for me, and for all the world. It is finished. Mission accomplished. And when you begin to recognize this, you can’t help but rejoice with the shepherds and all the heavenly host: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”
May this joy and peace of Christ Jesus, which surpasses all human understanding, be and remain with you always, these Christmas days and all your remaining days unto life everlasting.
A very blessed and merry Christmas. AMEN
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